August 7, 2011

Ayn Rand vs. Thomas Kinkade, "The Fountainhead" vs. "Cobblestone Bridge"

This is the first in new a series of posts where I will compare two works of art. I do not plan on doing posts like this every day, but I do have many comparisons planned.

Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead"
Born/Died: 1905-1982

Creation Date: 1943
Media: Fiction Novel 
ayn rand fountainhead

Thomas Kinkade's "Cobblestone Bridge"
Born/Died: 1958

Creation Date: 2000
Media: Painting

Thomas Kinkade and Ayn Rand are artists with some similarities and some important differences. Although there are many things to compare between these two artists, in this comparison I will focus only on the metaphysical assessments of reality reflected in each and I will point out how they are different.

Kinkade's Cobblestone Bridge is a world of undeniable positivity. It presents a sugary-sweet world devoid of the slightest hint of strife, hardship and negativity of any kind--a world without blemishes. At first glance, this kind of work seems to be in line with the type of painting advocated by Rand, but something about it leaves me empty. I agree with Rand's aesthetic philosophy and most of her ideas about art, and yet I have a hard time taking artists like Kinkade seriously. Rand onced expressed her dislike for Disney animated movies by saying they were "too cutsey" and this is how I feel about Kinkade's work.

As I said before, this is the type of painting that Rand seemed to advocate when she championed artwork with a positive sense of life, but is this really what she had in mind? Was this what Rand's artwork was like? Was Roark's career a walk in the park? Was the New York of The Fountainhead devoid of conflict and hardship? Did Rand present a sugary sweet world without blemishes? Is this type of image similar to Rand's descriptions of Stephen Malory's sculptures?

Obviously not.

The universe of Rand's Fountainhead, is filled to the brim with struggle and suffering. Roark is beaten and battered by those who hate him and by those who love him. He suffers from beginning to end. He even faces the possibility of having his beloved career and liberty taken away from him by the threat of time in jail (his second encounter with the law.) Rand's world is one where a man like Peter Keating can make such disastrous choices that he is psychologically and professionally destroyed. Her world included Henry Cameron's incredible success and ultimate demise. After the Banner closes, the evil Elsworth Toohey is still able to land a job at another newspaper to continue spreading his tentacles. In short, Rand presents a sky with plenty of clouds.

What is similar about these two works then? Like Kinkade, Rand ultimately presents a positive view of life through her work, but her world is positive in spite of the negative. Kinkade's work is positive because it's blind to the negative. Kinkade cowers away from the hardships in life and his artwork isn't a reflection of a rational view of life, but rather the psychological vision of a man who has stuck his head in the sand. Rand, on the other hand, faces reality with all it's negativity head-on and still concludes that life is worthwhile and positive. That is why The Fountainhead is so inspiring and useful to a man who is attempting to live his life and face his hardships, whereas Kinkade's work is only useful to those who wish to avoid hardships by avoiding life.


  1. This is right:

    "Kinkade cowers away from the hardships in life and his artwork isn't a reflection of a rational view of life, but rather the psychological vision of a man who has stuck his head in the sand. Rand, on the other hand, faces reality with all it's negativity head-on and still concludes that life is worthwhile and positive."

    I have an intense hatred for Kinkade's work, but I think my bias is well-founded. ( So, I would argue that there is no substantive thematic comparison to be made between Rand and Kinkade other than to point out how different they are.

    You use the term "positive" throughout your discussion. I would suggest an alternative: benevolent.

    But can we really argue that Kinkade's universe is all that benevolent when it seeks to rob humanity of the need to actually be human?

    Ayn Rand looked at the universe and concluded that it is benevolent because human beings can survive and thrive through the fierce, joyful application of their minds to the challenges of existence within it.

    Thomas Kinkade's work presents an alternative reality bathed in the light of baby Jesus' discarded diapers. There is no challenge to humans here. One need only show up and one's every need is met. A rational faculty in humans living in Kinkade's world is like lipstick on a pig. And so it actually offends me to be so regarded.

    I have to give you much props for comparing two works of art of radically different mediums.

  2. I agree with your assessment in every regard.

    Thank you very much.

  3. This comparison needs more substance for it to become anything resembling an argument. You compare a 700-page novel and a landscape painting and point out that the novel, surprise surprise, has far more explicit conflict. Well of course. Unless you are going to deal with the reality of the difference in the mediums, this analysis can do nothing but make other Objectivists gloat about the superiority of Rand's art. Of course, it's true that Rand's art is superior, but right now there is no real comparison going on in your analysis. What kind of conflict would a landscape show, how would it do it, and/or is landscape painting an inherently lesser medium. These kinds of questions would need to be asked before we can begin writing off Kinkade's work as being 'blind to the negative' or that he 'cowers away from the hardships in life.'

    I'm not really a fan of Kinkade, but it doesn't seem to me to follow that a landscape of beautiful country homes with smoke wafting from their roofs is some kind of betrayal of man's nature. Think of it this way, the building of a life that could earn one of those homes, and that could enjoy it, may represent years of toil and struggle for someone who wants to live a more beautiful life.

    Ultimately I do believe that Kinkade is a very limited artist, but if you are going to talk about the relative merits of a novel versus a landscape painting you need to approach it with a lot more finesse